San Francisco Is Ferguson Too

San Francisco wasn't supposed to be Ferguson, but here we are. Distrust for police in the city of St. Francis has reached a high we didn't think possible. A San Francisco police officer's gun does not fire in our city without sparking instant public outrage. Protesters clutching signs hit the streets even before circumstances of the shootings are clear. And while SFPD's defenders can call such protests premature, there is a more important truth they fail to recognize. Without a thorough audit of the department's practices, we have no way of knowing what reforms are needed, if any. And that has created a vicious cycle for the San Francisco Police Officers Association, which while defending its brothers in blue has failed miserably at seeing how its reluctance to reform is making its officers - not just our community members -- less safe.

Enough alarming incidents have happened recently that one can no longer call SFPD's problem a matter of a few bad apples. There have been a number of high profile fatal shootings, including last week's killing of a knife-wielding homeless man within 30 seconds of police stepping out of their vehicles. In December, 26-year-old Mario Woods, also carrying a knife, suffered 21 bullet wounds from five different police handguns. Also, the recent vindication of police officers who fired 59 shots in the 2014 killing of Alex Nieto in Bernal Heights has only deepened distrust.

There have also been disturbing incidents occurring under the radar. At the same time as a group of SFPD officers was being investigated for trading racist and homophobic texts, dozens of more similar texts involving other cops have emerged in the past several months. Disgusting texts shared between officers called for the hangings and shootings of black people, with one stating "It's not against the law to put an animal down." Texts even targeted one of their own, Sgt. Yulanda Williams, a black women who heads an advocacy organization for black officers.

Also, you didn't hear this in the news, but at a Mission district high school recently, SFPD officers investigating an altercation at a nearby store harassed students without notifying school administrators.

There are also emerging revelations that minority and low-income residents are being targeted with tickets for minor infractions such as jaywalking and other violations. Such ticketing wouldn't happen in the Marina district or Pacific Heights, I can assure you.

I myself was recently the victim of excessive force on the part of Bayview officers, an incident that has been referred to the city's Office of Citizens Complaints. This incident didn't happen on some street corner. It happened at the senior center.

And I am far from the only minority in this city who have had racially-motivated interactions with police.

The Police Department, but most importantly its union leadership, needs to spend as much time taking legitimate steps toward transparency and reform as it does defending its officers. While bad apples don't always spoil the bunch, recent incidents and revelations have caused a deep rotting of the trust between officers and the community. It has come to the point where interactions between police and residents have become significantly less safe. I am concerned not only for victims of police injustice, but for the lives of officers encountering residents who fear for their lives around them.

The City of St. Francis wasn't supposed to be Ferguson, but we are the world's technology capital, where no startling incident goes un-filmed. There is no greater need for transparency by SFPD than right now. We are calling on the NAACP and faith community to demand an immediate intervention on the part of the U.S. Attorney General's Office to investigate and act on civil rights violations. We need to find out what hasn't been working. Only a thorough and independent investigation can reveal the truth about SFPD in a way that can lead to a rebuilding of the community trust.

We must identify what steps need to be taken to root out racism and to more adequately train officers handling crisis situations. And we need to start with the cadets in the police academy to ensure that the best practices of community policing are ingrained for generations.